Oscars 2021 nominated live action shorts: A close call between a dad who goes shopping and a man who finds his stolen bike

From The Present to White Eye, here are reviews of Best live-action short Oscar nominees, available on BookMyShow Stream.

Anna MM Vetticad April 16, 2021 17:00:21 IST
Oscars 2021 nominated live action shorts: A close call between a dad who goes shopping and a man who finds his stolen bike

Remember when Indian film buffs used to tie themselves in knots trying to access all the Oscar-nominated films during the awards season each year? Gradually, these films began coming to theatres in the run-up to cinema’s glitziest, most high-profile event. This year, with COVID-19 rampaging across the country, ShortsTV – a channel dedicated to short films that has been bringing the nominees from the shorts categories to Indian theatres – has opted for a streaming release for these films. That’s how it is that 2021’s five nominated live-action shorts are available for rent from today on BookMyShow’s new OTT platform BookMyShow Stream as a single package.

Here are reviews of each of the nominated films:

Feeling Through

Oscars 2021 nominated live action shorts A close call between a dad who goes shopping and a man who finds his stolen bike

Still from Feeling Through

Director: Doug Roland

Cast: Steven Prescod, Robert Tarango

Language: English

Tereek, an African American teenager, is desperately looking for a place to stay one night in New York City when he chances upon a deaf and blind man called Artie seeking help. Tereek is a good soul, and so he stays longer than most human beings would in the circumstances, and ends up building a connection with this stranger.

Given the nature of Artie’s physical challenges and considering the lateness of the hour, there are very few verbal exchanges to be heard during the 18 minutes running time of writer-director Doug Roland’s Feeling Through. The quiet though is powerful. Actors Steven Prescod as Tereek and Robert Tarango playing Artie give meaning to each moment through facial expressions and unspoken communication.

Feeling Through – on which Oscar-winning actor and deaf activist Marlee Matlin serves as an executive producer – is about the good in people with human failings and about moments when they falter. The scene on a bus towards the end is stretched a tad bit for impact, but largely this is an uplifting film designed to restore faith in humanity.

Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)

***

The Letter Room

Oscars 2021 nominated live action shorts A close call between a dad who goes shopping and a man who finds his stolen bike

Still from The Letter Room

Director: Elvira Lind

Cast: Oscar Isaac, Alia Shawkat, Brian Petsos, Tony Gillan, Michael Hernandez,

Eileen Galindo, John Douglas Thompson

Language: English

In writer-director Elvira Lind’s The Letter Room, a prison official is assigned the job of monitoring outside communication to inmates. While reading their letters, he finds ways to assuage his own loneliness and mines the Good Samaritan within him.

The Letter Room has a touch of The Lives of Others – Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Oscar-awarded 2006 German feature – in short format, using surveillance, albeit in vastly different circumstances, to spot human decency in unexpected places. There are moments when the film teeters towards creepy, but stops short of going there even as Richard (Oscar Isaac), the policeman with a golden heart, gets immersed in the passionate missives being sent to one particular man on death row by his lover Rosita.

No one in this prison is happy. Richard himself finds solace in the saviour complex he develops, and on learning that one person he seeks out does not need saving he shifts his attention to another. The percussion punctuating the sound design is a particularly attractive element in The Letter Room. Where the film truly scores is in ensuring that although Richard is a lonely soul, he is at no point portrayed as a pitiable creature.

Rating: 2.75 (out of 5 stars)

***

The Present

Oscars 2021 nominated live action shorts A close call between a dad who goes shopping and a man who finds his stolen bike

Still from The Present

Director: Farah Nabulsi

Cast: Saleh Bakri, Maryam Kanj, Mariam Kamel Basha

Language: Arabic and English

If you and I decided to buy lemons, minced meat and a refrigerator one day, chances are this would involve a phone call to place an order or a quick visit to a mall. Not if you are a Palestinian going shopping in the West Bank though.

When the protagonist of The Present, Yusef (Saleh Bakri), wishes to make these simple purchases on his wedding anniversary, he must undergo a long wait, humiliating searches and questioning, back-breaking physical exertion and fear as he crosses barricades and segregated roads to make the journey back and forth with his little daughter. The situation leads to some terrifying moments in the closing scene of director Farah Nabulsi’s film, co-written by Nabulsi and Hind Shoufani. In the end what remains is the pain and drudgery of life in a divided, strife-torn region where every tiny action invites suspicion and scrutiny.

Nabulsi’s evocative short is a coming together of robust writing, a strong technical team and some terrific acting by Bakri and by Maryam Kanj as Yasmine, Yusef’s frightened, considerate child.

The brief distance between a man living on one side of the Israeli West Bank barrier and his family on the other side in Israel was the subject of Palestinian director Ameen Nayfeh’s full-length feature 200 Meters that won a major award at the Venice Film Festival 2020 and was Jordan’s entry for the Best International Film category at Oscars 2021. The bitter-sweet 200 Meters did not get an Oscar nom, but its more concise cousin, the stunningly simple The Present, is deservedly now vying for the Live Action Short Oscar statuette.

Rating: 4 (out of 5 stars)

***

Two Distant Strangers

Oscars 2021 nominated live action shorts A close call between a dad who goes shopping and a man who finds his stolen bike

Still from Two Distant Strangers

Director: Travon Free, Martin Desmond Roe

Cast: Joey Bada$$, Andrew Howard, Zaria

Language: English

Groundhog Day meets the Black Lives Matter movement in this story of an African American youngster who keeps waking up from the same nightmare in which he finds himself murdered by a white policeman on duty for no fault of his – he was just trying to get home to his dog.

Travon Free’s script is based on an imaginative concept, but beyond a point it gets too verbose to be effective cinema. Good intentions and political relevance cannot be the sole determinants of quality. Two Distant Strangers has its heart in the right place but it has no place in this set of nominees.

A list of black individuals killed by American police appears right after the story of Carter (Joey Bada$$) and includes names such as Breonna Taylor and George Floyd who made news even here, continents away in India. The length of that list is depressing. “Remember their names,” the text on screen exhorts the viewer. Yes, remember, and give them a better film.

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5 stars)

***

White Eye

Oscars 2021 nominated live action shorts A close call between a dad who goes shopping and a man who finds his stolen bike

Still from White Eye

Director: Tomer Shushan

Cast: Daniel Gad, Dawit Tekelaeb, Reut Akkerman, Amir Bushari, Gosha Demin

Language: Hebrew

A man locates a bicycle that was stolen from him, but his animosity soon gives way to concern for the person he thought was the thief. Omer is the complainant who realises that the inequalities between him and the accused make the situation far more complex than he might have guessed.

Director Tomer Shushan’s White Eye is a gripping 20-minuter that sustains the suspense about the actions and fate of its characters till the end. Les Miserables this certainly is not. This is about humanity in an unexpectedly complex situation. My vote for this year’s Best Live Animation Short Oscar goes to The Present, but White Eye comes a close second.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5 stars)

2021’s Oscar-nominated live-action shorts are streaming on BookMyShow Stream

(All images from Twitter)

(Also read – Oscar-nominated animation shorts: A chronicle of enslavement and rebellion stands out in this eclectic collection)

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